Baby with parents from Nazareth fills in to play Jesus in Christmas pageant
After a case of the sniffles, a happy twist of fate brought a baby Jesus descended from Nazareth to the Church of the Holy Trinity’s door.
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For the Church of the Holy Trinity’s annual Christmas pageant, baby Jesus may come from Rosedale or Leslieville or Cabbagetown.
This year, after a baby came down with a case of the sniffles, a happy twist of fate brought to the church’s door a baby Jesus descended from Nazareth.
Last Sunday morning, Angela Gentili called Susan Watson, director of The Christmas Story, being staged at the church next to the Eaton Centre, to share some bad news.
Gentili’s son Samuel was sick and couldn’t perform as baby Jesus in the production later that day.
At first, Watson thought she would have to use a doll as Samuel’s replacement.
But 40 minutes before show time, an usher told Watson that he’d found a baby girl to play Jesus.
Not only that, but her parents were from Nazareth, the city in Israel where Jesus is said to have lived.
“Nazareth is only 80,000 people. It’s smaller than Guelph. What are the chances?” said Watson, who has directed the play for 28 years.
The couple, Reem and Anan Mazzawi, had arrived early with their daughters Noor and baby Tala. Once the usher heard that the original baby Jesus was sick, he asked the family if 10-month-old Tala could perform.
“They just asked us if they could borrow Tala for the show, and we said, ‘Yeah, but she’s a girl. She has earrings,’” Reem said.
Neither of those things mattered, and the crew got the baby ready for the show.
Her parents fed her mashed bananas so she wouldn’t be hungry. According to Reem, who took care of Tala when she was offstage, baby Jesus enjoyed her debut and didn’t fuss at all.
“She loved it. She was very happy and interactive with the performers,” Reem said. “It was emotional in a way, because I am a performer … It was kind of exciting to see my daughter onstage.”
Tala’s grandparents run a theatre and dance troupe in Nazareth, and Reem has a PhD in drama therapy. Reem and Anan, who have lived in Canada together for six years, joked on their way to the pageant that maybe Tala could play Jesus.
Doug Buck was in the audience Sunday afternoon and called Tala’s performance a “perfect Toronto moment.”
Audience members were charmed by the fact that the baby has roots in Nazareth, but Reem said she saw the best of Toronto at the show.
“I really liked the environment. It’s very diverse and multicultural and it’s what Toronto represents to me,” she said.
Her older daughter, Noor, also enjoyed the show, and the 5-year-old wants to play an angel in next year’s performance.
Watson rotates babies throughout the production, and said Samuel will get another opportunity to play Jesus.
“He’ll get another shot, but I think it was meant to be, because it couldn’t be more perfect than this,” she said.
The Christmas Story has been performed for 80 years at the church, which has room for 350 people. Tala’s appearance wasn’t the first time a baby had been borrowed from the audience, or even from the mall next door.
Performances of the play continue until Christmas Eve.
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